CMA Music Festival

What is CMA Music Fest?

CMA Music Festival Today

CMA Music Festival is steeped in more than three decades of Fan Fair® tradition. Since Fan Fair was born in 1972, Country Music fans have poured into Nashville, Tenn., traveling from around the globe to see their favorite artists perform, to get that coveted autograph and to create lifelong memories.

CMA Music Festival is unique among music festivals. It is a four-day celebration of America’s music that features artist/fan interaction, autograph signings, photo opportunities, more than 100 hours of concerts, family activities and much more.

Each year, hundreds of artists and celebrities appear at CMA Music Festival – from rising stars, to current favorites and the legends. CMA Music Festival is a veritable stomping ground for both those who love making music and those who love hearing it.

Presented annually by the Country Music Association, this world-class event has grown to attract nearly 200,000 fans from around the world in 2007, while simultaneously raising money for "Keep the Music Playing," a music education initiative in local public schools through a partnership with the Nashville Alliance for Public Education. Since co-establishing "Keep the Music Playing" in 2006, CMA has donated more than $1.1 million to the cause from proceeds generated at the CMA Music Festival.

History of CMA Music Festival

Fan Fair began in response to overcrowding at the annual Country Music DJ convention in Nashville. The large number of Country artists in attendance attracted a larger number of fans hoping for a glimpse of their favorite stars. CMA, along with the Grand Ole Opry, decided that if a festival were created especially for the fans at another time of the year, it would not only relieve the congestion, but it would be another opportunity to showcase Country Music.


The first Fan Fair, held April 12-15, 1972, at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium, hosted some of Country Music’s most noted artists who performed more than 20 hours of live entertainment. Featured artists included Roy Acuff, Loretta Lynn, Tom T. Hall, Freddie Hart, Nat Stuckey, Billy "Crash" Craddock, Ernest Tubb, Del Wood, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper and Pee Wee King, among others. Approximately 5,000 people attended the first Fan Fair. With more than 100 exhibit booths, fans could indulge in picture taking and autograph sessions with the artists. The Odessa Chuck Wagon Gang of Odessa, Texas, served up their "Texas Menu" of barbecue, beans, slaw, onions, pickles, bread and beverages.

The first Fan Fair was scarcely started before fans and artists began inquiring about the date for the next year. Fan Fair 1973 was moved to June, a peak travel month, which provided better weather conditions than April. Just over 10,000 fans — twice as many as the first year — attended.

Fans in attendance at Fan Fair 1974 witnessed Country Music history as Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton performed as a duo for what would be the last time in more than a decade. The festivities were also highlighted by an unexpected visit by former Beatle and Country Music fan Paul McCartney, a visit that would spark a tradition of cross-genre artist appearances at the festival.


With the exploding popularity of Country Music, Fan Fair continued to grow each year. In 1982, the event was moved to the Tennessee State Fairgrounds to accommodate more fans. Also that year, the celebrity softball tournament was replaced by the All American Country Games competition. This event was held each year through 1988 and benefited Tennessee Special Olympics. In 1989, more shows were added to take the place of the games.

In 1985, Patty Loveless asked Vince Gill for his autograph at Fan Fair and had her photo taken with him. She wasn’t a star, but told Vince she would be soon. Two years later, Vince sang on her record and she eventually won CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year.


Fan Fair celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1991 with an expanded show schedule. More than 65 Country artists appeared in more than 34 hours of live stage shows. The Exhibit Hall grew too, with more than 200 entertainers setting up booths for autograph sessions. And although Kathy Mattea was under strict orders from her doctor not to talk due to injured vocal cords, she still managed to communicate with her fans via a personal computer.

A quick comparison of artists who appeared at the first Fan Fair and those who made return appearances at the ’91 event gives evidence of the enduring nature of Country Music and its entertainers as Bill Monroe, Mac Wiseman and Freddie Hart made both lists.


Some of Country Music’s most popular performers, including Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Kathy Mattea, Wynonna and a high-energy newcomer named Billy Ray Cyrus, appeared at the event in 1992. More than 600 media representatives covered the event including representatives from Switzerland, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, Spain, England, Ireland, Luxembourg and France.


In 1993, Alan Jackson’s "Chattahoochee" booth took first prize in the booth competition. Doug Stone and former "Music City Tonight" star Lorianne Crook arrived at Stone’s booth dressed as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. Lorrie Morgan took an "out of this world" approach in her booth with a crashed UFO and aliens. Travis Tritt signed autographs from the inside of a giant Gibson guitar.

Billy Ray Cyrus surprised the crowd by inviting pop star Bryan Adams to join him for a few tunes. Adams later said, "I’d never seen Fan Fair before. There’s not anything like it in rock ’n’ roll!" Shania Twain met her future husband, producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, backstage at Fan Fair. Although they had developed a great telephone friendship after Lange got Twain’s phone number from pal Bryan Adams, they didn’t actually come face-to-face until Fan Fair 1993.


In 1994 almost 100 Country entertainers performed during the celebration. Willie Nelson made a surprise appearance at the Liberty Records show as the label’s newest artist. Also on the Liberty show, John Berry made his anticipated return to the stage following brain surgery in May. He performed his No. 1 hit, "Your Love Amazes Me." Reba McEntire also surprised the audience when she joined Linda Davis on the Arista Records show to sing their CMA and Grammy award–winning song, "Does He Love You." Celebrities outside Country Music continued to pop up at Fan Fair that year when actor Danny Glover made an appearance.


Many movie and television stars, sports stars and rock ’n’ roll legends have visited Fan Fair over the years. In 1995, Maureen McCormick ("The Brady Bunch"), Branscombe Richmond ("Renegade") and bull riding champ Tuff Hedeman could be seen signing autographs and meeting fans. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman visited Fan Fair in 1995 and in 1996.

In 1995, Vince Gill’s fans admitted to getting up as early as 4:15 AM to nab a spot in his autograph line. Vince got comfortable while greeting fans, attired in shorts and even taking off his shoes. Toby Keith didn’t let a torn ligament hamper his Fan Fair activities. He hobbled to his booth on crutches and also performed on the Fan Fair stage, seated on a stool so he didn’t put any weight on his injured leg. Tammy Wynette and George Jones reunited onstage for their first live performance together in 17 years.


1996 marked the 25th anniversary for the event. More than 100 artists performed for the sold-out crowd. During the week, Garth Brooks made an unexpected appearance and signed autographs for 23 consecutive hours. "Good Morning America" was on hand for live coverage. Alan Jackson arrived via helicopter. And the Beach Boys teamed up with Country Music stars like Ronnie Milsap, Lorrie Morgan, Collin Raye and Doug Supernaw for "Fun In The Sun."


Specialty shows were the highlight of 1997 with "The Working Man’s Show," which featured host George Jones, Merle Haggard and Johnny Paycheck teaming up for "Yesterday’s Wine" (they also jammed with Steve Wariner, Sara Evans and Charlie Daniels) and "The Honky Tonk Finale" with Hank Thompson, which capped off the week.


1998 was a full year of surprises as Dolly Parton joined Lee Ann Womack during the Decca Records show to perform "Jolene," making it Dolly’s first appearance at Fan Fair in over a decade. Garth Brooks unexpectedly took the stage to perform "Burnin’ The Road House Down" and "Long Neck Bottle" with collaborator Steve Wariner during the Capitol Nashville show. And Vince Gill danced his way onto the stage to perform "You’re The One That I Want" with Olivia Newton-John during the MCA Nashville show.


Exciting "two-for-ones" were the deal-of-the-day in 1999. Waylon Jennings joined RCA newcomer Andy Griggs for the classic, "I Don’t Think Hank Done It This Way." Lorrie Morgan joined Sammy Kershaw during the Mercury show. And The Oak Ridge Boys joined Atlantic’s South Sixty-Five for a rendition of "Bobbie Sue." Fan Fair once again had a major economic impact on Nashville, estimated conservatively at over $10 million by the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau.


More than 200 artists participated in 2000 including more than 40 Platinum and multi-Platinum acts such as Brooks & Dunn, Clint Black, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Lonestar, Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes and SHeDAISY. Newcomers, including Alecia Elliott, Billy Gilman and Phil Vassar also mingled with fans. Even Country Music legends Janie Fricke, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap and Charley Pride joined in the week’s festivities. Chely Wright got to enjoy time as a fan herself when Wright and Pam Tillis joined Country Music icon, Loretta Lynn in the Grand Ole Opry’s booth. As the threesome climbed on top of the booth to wave to a throng of fans, it marked a classic moment in Country Music with three generations of performers coming together at the event.


2001 marked a new era for Fan Fair as the event made an impressive return to Downtown Nashville. Fans who attended "The World’s Biggest Country Music Festival™" were introduced to the many new sights, sounds and venues that comprise the modernized event.

The rejuvenated event introduced The Coliseum, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, as the location for the nightly, star-studded concerts with state-of-the-art staging and firework displays. The Nashville Convention Center became the new, air-conditioned home of the fan-favorite exhibits and autograph sessions. And music filled the banks of the Cumberland River for daytime concerts at Riverfront Park Stages, with a rich assortment of artists and musical styles.

Responding to the needs of festival attendees, CMA introduced two new popular attractions: the Family Zone, a free-to-the-public festive environment featuring games, product sampling and an array of activities for people of all ages, and After Hours, a collaboration of Downtown Nashville clubs and nightspots featuring live music and specials for attendees.

Also new in 2001 was the addition of stars from NBC’s powerful daytime dramas "Days of our Lives" and "Passions," performing and signing autographs for a multitude of fans.


Fan Fair 2002 drew an aggregate attendance of more than 126,500. The Coliseum featured many of Country Music’s hottest stars including Trace Adkins, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Billy Ray Cyrus, Diamond Rio, Alan Jackson, George Jones, Toby Keith, Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina, John Michael Montgomery, Rascal Flatts, Earl Scruggs, SHeDAISY, Cyndi Thomson, Keith Urban and Lee Ann Womack.

New in 2002 was the Andy Griggs Celebrity Archery Tournament, which scored a bull’s eye with fans as artists competed in bow-and-arrow target shooting competition.

The event was a hit with Nashville as well, pouring a record $17.5 million into the local economy. Since its inception, it is estimated that Fan Fair has contributed more than $200 million to the Nashville area.


In 2003, celebrities from many fields made appearances at Fan Fair including Lance Bass of *NSYNC; Verne Troyer of the "Austin Powers" films; Teresa Earnhardt, widow of racing legend Dale Earnhardt; the stars of NBC Daytime dramas "Days of our Lives" and "Passions" in their third annual appearance; and Tennessee Titans wide receiver Drew Bennett.

But the artists remained at the heart of the event with more than 500 appearances in the Exhibit Hall at the Nashville Convention Center, 42 artists playing The Coliseum’s nightly concerts and 82 artists performing on the Riverfront Park Stages. Artists who participated included Alabama, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Montgomery Gentry, Joe Nichols, Trick Pony, Darryl Worley and more. The event culminated with a musical triumph when Naomi Judd joined daughter Wynonna to perform two songs.


As Fan Fair continued to evolve into a world-class, city-centered music festival, it was renamed the CMA Music Festival in 2004. That year had the largest attendance to date, with more than 130,000 fans attending the event over its four days. New additions included the Sports Zone and the Acoustic Corner.

The event was filmed for a two hour CBS television special which aired on July 14 and ranked number 16 for the week with more than 9 million viewers. Trace Adkins, Brooks and Dunn, Dierks Bentley, Terri Clark, Pat Green, Martina McBride, Montgomery Gentry, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes, Uncle Kracker, Keith Urban, Hank Williams Jr., Gretchen Wilson, and Wynonna were all featured in the performance on the television special.


In 2005, CMA Music Festival broke the attendance record with more than 145,000 Country Music fans attending. Thirty-five acts participated in the star-studded Nightly Concerts at The Coliseum while the riverfront dual stages bustled with a rich array of more than 100 acts from both major and independent record labels performing nearly 30 hours of concerts.

New in 2005 was the CMA Music Festival Kick Off Parade, which traversed four blocks on Broadway before ending at Riverfront Park for the launch of the Festival. A total of 373 acts and celebrities appeared in the Wrangler® Fan Fair (Exhibit Hall) at the Nashville Convention Center for the autograph and photo sessions. Fourteen Downtown Nashville clubs participated in CMA Music Festival After Hours™. NBC Daytime and CMA continued their successful partnership for the fifth consecutive year with stars of "Days of our Lives" and "Passions" making several appearances.

A two-hour primetime television special "CMA Music Festival: Country Music’s Biggest Party" aired nationally Aug. 2 on the ABC Television Network, featuring highlights from the event. Featured performers included Dierks Bentley; Big & Rich with Cowboy Troy; Sara Evans; Alan Jackson; Miranda Lambert; Jo Dee Messina; Dolly Parton and The Grascals; Rascal Flatts; Sugarland; Keith Urban; Phil Vassar; Lee Ann Womack; Wynonna and Trisha Yearwood. The special also premiered the network television debut of Gretchen Wilson’s single, "All Jacked Up."


CMA Music Festival set a new attendance record in 2006 with 161,590 people attending the four-day Festival, June 8-11, in Downtown Nashville. In all, 33 acts participated in the star-packed Nightly Concerts at LP Field, while the Riverfront dual stages bustled with a rich array of performers from both major and independent record labels. In all, 86 acts performed more than 32 hours of concerts.

New in 2006 was the "CMA Music Festival Block Party" following "The Second Annual CMA Music Festival Kick Off Parade," featuring special guests Big & Rich and a variety of artists, celebrities, and athletes riding in classic Chevy vehicles and the newest model cars. Also in 2006, CMA and the Nashville Alliance for Public Education partnered together on the "Keep the Music Playing" initiative, which guaranteed proceeds from the CMA Music Festival would go towards music education in local public schools. CMA anticipated contributing $300,000 toward music education for Metro Nashville’s 73,000 public school students in 2006.

A total of 326 artists and celebrities appeared in the Wrangler® Fan Fair at the Nashville Convention Center for the autograph and photo sessions. Exhibit booths sold out with 115 exhibitors. CMA’s free Chevy Sports Zone, in its third year, moved from the grounds at the stadium to Downtown, and was a huge hit with participants and fans looking for fun and friendly competition among celebrities, artists and athletes. NBC Daytime and CMA continued their successful partnership for the sixth consecutive year with stars of "Days of our Lives" and "Passions" making several appearances during the Festival. ABC’s "Good Morning America" went live from the rooftop of Rippy’s Smokin’ Bar & Grill with Billy Currington, Sara Evans and Josh Turner.

For the second year in a row, the ABC Television Network aired a two-hour primetime television special, featuring highlights from the event. Featured performers included Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Gary Allan, Dierks Bentley, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, Miranda Lambert, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Martina McBride, Montgomery Gentry, Brad Paisley, Sugarland, Carrie Underwood, Hank Williams, Jr. and Wynonna.


A new attendance record was set in 2007 with 191,154 fans attending the Festival. Those in attendance participated in more than 100 hours of concerts, 30 hours of organized autograph signings, family activities, celebrity sports competitions, interactive exhibits, giveaways, games and much more. More than 400 celebrities made appearances at the 2007 CMA Music Festival.

Reba McEntire made a return in 2007 after an 11 year absence performing at LP Field with Kelly Clarkson making a surprise appearance. Other surprises included Ted Nugent joining Montgomery Gentry on stage for a ferocious rendition of "Cat Scratch Fever" and an unannounced performance by Country super group Rascal Flatts. Other artists that taking the stage at LP Field included Trace Adkins, Rodney Atkins, Dierks Bentley, Big & Rich, Brooks & Dunn, Sara Evans, Alan Jackson, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, LeAnn Rimes, Sugarland, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, and The Wreckers.

The stars of ABC daytime television shows "All My Children," "One Life to Live," and "General Hospital" made their first appearance at the Festival in 2007. The actors signed autographs in the Fan Fair Exhibit Hall and introduced concerts. But the highlight for fans had to be "Fun in the Sun" at the Wildhorse Saloon with interviews, performances, dance lessons and other activities.

In 2007, ABC hosted a block party which included "Ugly Betty" look-alikes, "Dancing with the Stars" champion Cheryl Burke, and trivia games testing the participants’ knowledge of ABC television shows.

Fans also got to cheer on their favorite celebrities, artists and athletes as they competed in fun and friendly competitions in the Chevy Sports Zone. These contests included "The Sixth Annual Andy Griggs Celebrity Archery Tournament," "The Steve Azar Celebrity Sports Challenge" and "The Michael Peterson/New Holland Celebrity Tractor Race."

For the third year in a row, ABC Television Network aired a primetime television special featuring highlights from the event. Featured performers included Big & Rich, Brooks & Dunn, Sara Evans, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes, Sugarland, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.


The CMA Music Festival sells out LP Field each night for the first time. Tim McGraw, who hadn’t signed in Fan Fair Hall since 2000, signs 3,000 autographs in two hours. The Judds, who hadn’t signed autographs together since the 1990s when the event was at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, sign in the CMA booth. NASCAR superstar Richard Petty makes an appearance.


Taylor Swift signs fan autographs for 13 hours.